‘This proposed pipeline is a reckless, racist rip-off…’
(Kaylee McGhee, Liberty Headlines) Former Vice President Al Gore and other environmental activists are leveraging Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s racist history in their bid to quash a massive energy project—the $7 billion-plus Atlantic Coast gas pipeline—because it would pass through a historically African–American community.
The 600-mile project, spearheaded by Dominion Energy Inc., hoped to place one of its compressor stations in Union Hill, a community west of Richmond founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. Progressive groups who have already been fighting the project are seizing on enhanced criticism of Northam in an effort to kill the pipeline once and for all, according to Bloomberg.
A photo on Northam’s page in his medical school yearbook showed two men in racist garb—one in blackface with a noose around his neck and another in Ku Klux Klan robes. He apologized in the immediate aftermath for the “clearly racist” photo but perplexingly backtracked a few days later, claiming he wasn’t in the picture. Nonetheless, he acknowledged wearing blackface during a Michael Jackson dance contest.
Despite Democrats’ calls for Northam to resign, the governor has refused. A Washington Post poll said Virginians were evenly divided over whether Northam should go, but black activists have seen an opportunity to capitalize on his compromising scandal, pressing him with a list of radical demands that would benefit the African–American community, as well as other unrelated ones to advance leftist causes.
Opponents of the pipeline, specifically environmental groups, sought to compel Northam to intervene.
“The national spotlight has been shone on Virginia,” Queen Zakia Shabazz, a coordinator of the Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative, told Bloomberg. “This gives others the opportunity to be aware of the environmental injustices that are happening. It gives us a little bit more of a voice.”
Gore and social-justice activist Rev. William Barber II visited Union Hill this week to urge its community members to push back against the pipeline. Gore told the residents that the pipeline is a “vivid example of environmental racism,” according to the Daily Progress.
“This proposed pipeline is a reckless, racist rip-off,” Gore said. “This compressor station and this pipeline would be the single largest increase in global-warming pollution from the state of Virginia ever.”
Barber said that if Northam allows the pipeline to continue being built, he would be “practicing sin.”
“I want to say tonight that any governor or legislator, Democrat or Republican … that has chosen Dominion over this community is scandalous,” Barber said.
But some of Union Hill’s community members still supported the project. Michelle Ford, 47, who has lived in Union Hill her whole life, told the Daily Progress that the community could experience significant economic benefits from the project, including job opportunities.
“Nobody is saying, ‘Yes, we want it, hooray.’ What we’re saying is, ‘If it is going to come, what can Dominion do for the Union Hill community?'” Ford said.
If Northam caves, he could order the state’s Department of Environmental Quality to withhold Dominion Energy Inc.’s air permit for the compressor station until further review.
“This is an ideal opportunity for him to say, ‘I’ve seen the light,'” Gore said of the Democratic governor.
Construction of the pipeline is currently on hold while Dominion appeals a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that threw out its permit to cross two national forests.
Rebecca Rubin, a former member of the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board, said environmental groups will likely continue to target the effects the pipeline could have on Union Hill’s African American community.
“I would like to believe that with the world watching, now might be a good time for the Northam administration to revisit and re-evaluate its prior conclusions,” Rubin said.
The state’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice reportedly warned Northam about the race-based opposition last August, urging him to rescind water permits for the Atlantic Coast pipeline.
The Union Hill station “may have a disproportionate impact on this predominately African American community and could be perceived as exhibiting racism in sitting, zoning and permitting decisions,” the council said in a letter.